5 qualities of a killer portfolio

Senior creative at Music Dan Lancaster reveals five things that distinguish design folios that catch agencies’ eyes from those that fail.

You might be a top creative director, or have the best pencil skills around, but the design world is a competitive one, so having a killer design portfolio is vital. Here Dan Lancaster, senior creative at design agency Music, reveals five ways to make your portfolio stand out from the crowd...

01. Projects that match the agency

Don't send the same portfolio to every studio: pick work that matches that of the agency you're applying to. "It's really important to understand what the agency does," says Lancaster. "Some are all about the design, whereas Music is all about the idea."

02. A format that suits the work

"It's easy just to put a pdf together, but think if there's a more emotive way to show your work," advises Lancaster. "We accept work in any format, so if it's print, bring in the print. If it's digital, think about how you can show it in motion."

03. No more than 10 individual projects

Don't include sub-standard work to pad out your portfolio: you don't have long to make your mark, and bad work dilutes the impact of the good. "Depending on the size of your projects, five to ten is fine," says Lancaster. "Always start and end strongly."

04. Concise project descriptions

"A massive page of text about a project is offputting," warns Lancaster. "Try to sum everything up in a paragraph. Focus on the key questions. Who did you do the work for? Who is the audience for it? What did you do to make it stand out?"

05. Work that spans an entire campaign

"We work in a lot of different disciplines, so to know that students are thinking about the intricacies of how a brand is created sorts the wheat from the chaff," says Lancaster. "It isn't just about sticking a logo on a letterhead."

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 251.


Dan Lancaster joined design agency Music in 2012, having previously spent six years at Brass in Leeds. In his role as senior creative, he reviews many of the portfolios submitted to Music.